Another Reply to the Bodhisattva Centre Protestors, Part Two

Dear Carol and friends, here we continue our answers to your questions!

Questions about Dorje Shugden

Is the practice of Dorje Shugden modern?

The practice of Dorje Shugden can implicitly be traced back to the time of Buddha Shakyamuni because, at that time, one of Buddha’s eight Bodhisattva disciples was Manjushri, and Manjushri and Dorje Shugden are the same person.

Buddha Shakyamuni encouraged many of his disciples such as King Ajatashatru to rely on Manjushri because they had a strong karmic connection with him. In the same way, Gelugpa teachers such as Je Phabongkhapa, the late Panchen Lama Chokyi Gyaltsen, Tomo Geshe Rinpoche, Trijang Rinpoche and Geshe Kelsang and Sakya Teachers such as Sachen Kunga Lodro, Morchen Dorjechang Kunga Lhundrup and Dagchen Trinley Rinchen have encouraged disciples to rely on Dorje Shugden because of their strong karmic connection with this particular embodiment of Manjushri.

Manjushri manifests as many different Dharma Protectors, such as the various Mahakalas and Kalarupa. It is accepted by the Dalai Lama and his followers that these Protectors are manifestations of Manjushri, but not Dorje Shugden. Why? If your Teacher tells you “Mahakala is Manjushri” and he also says “Dorje Shugden is Manjushri”, why believe one statement and not the other?

The point is the Dalai Lama doesn’t trust his own lineage Gurus, and in particular his teacher Trijang Rinpoche. The Dalai Lama previously referred to Trijang Rinpoche as his root guru:

‘I received the transmission of the guru yoga (Lama Chopa Guru Yoga Practice) from my root guru, the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.’  – Dalai Lama  – The Union of Bliss and Emptiness, Snow Lion Pub.1988.

Rejecting any Buddhist teaching is one of the “great faults”, but the Dalai Lama seems to think he has the wisdom to decide what people should practice and what they should not, even though his view is clearly not in keeping with his teachers’ and he does not have the spiritual authority of being the head of any lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Such interference in the religious practices of others by a political leader is unheard of in the history of Buddhism.

Refuting that Dorje Shugden is separate from Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition

You ask: If you live in a residential centre of the NKT you are also not allowed to engage in the religious practices of another tradition. For instance, you would not be allowed to have a picture of the Dalai Lama on your shrine. What difference is there in this and in the situation in India?

(It is not completely clear to me what you are comparing here, so let me know if I have missed your point). I personally know of several NKT residents who have pictures or books of the Dalai Lama in their rooms, and this is not disallowed — much less have these residents been asked to leave, as is sometimes claimed elsewhere. We don’t have pictures of the Dalai Lama on the Centre shrines as he is not the NKT’s (or Gelugpa’s for that matter) Spiritual Guide or lineage Guru (see Smear: NKT has split away from the Dalai Lama). It is unlikely that many of the Dalai Lama’s followers have a picture of Geshe Kelsang on their shrines for the same reason! In India, even pictures of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche are currently being removed from monasteries.

The situation in the monasteries in India is that over a thousand monks have been expelled (from the homes they have lived in since they were children, in many cases). This is for the crime of continuing to do a beneficial spiritual practice they have done their entire lives in those same monasteries, taught to them by their beloved Spiritual Guides who were Abbots, high Lamas and so on of those monasteries. In many cases, they have a life entrustment to do this practice. Some who chose the expediency of giving in to the Dalai Lama and giving up their reliance on their Spiritual Guide have described it as having their heart ripped out.

Just to get this into context, the practice of relying upon Dorje Shugden was a key practice of Je Phabongkhapa (the most famous Gelug Lama in the first part of the twentieth century) and of Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche (the most famous Gelug Lama in the second half of that century). Since the Gelug tradition was by far the largest of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, it is safe to assume that relying upon Dorje Shugden was a key practice of a large proportion of Tibetan Buddhists at the time of the Chinese invasion and in the early years of the Tibetan diaspora.

Meanwhile, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) have followed the Dalai Lama’s suit and recently barred from their Centres anyone who practices Dorje Shugden. This policy of discrimination is stated clearly on their website, and it seems extraordinary that, in this day and age, no one in the FPMT or elsewhere has questioned it. The NKT does not have anything remotely comparable to this policy and allows anyone to attend teachings; and yet it is accused by its detractors of sectarianism. If the NKT had a blatant policy of sectarianism like the one spelt out on the FPMT website, there would be a huge outcry. Naturally, the NKT would never hear the end of it. So why is there not even a small outcry about the FPMT’s policy? It seems because they feel safe hiding behind the popularity of the Dalai Lama, assuming that people will not question it; and, so far, they are correct in this assumption.

It may be worth pointing out that the Dalai Lama’s discrediting of Dorje Shugden is not simply an attack upon a Dharma Protector who, being a Buddha, needs no defending. Because relying upon Dorje Shugden was a key practice of Je Phabongkhapa and his disciples, an attack on Dorje Shugden is an attack on the spiritual heritage of all these Buddhist masters. If it is true, as the Dalai Lama claims, that Dorje Shugden is an evil spirit, it follows that these and many other Buddhist masters were relying upon an evil spirit — thus discrediting them, their followers, their Gelugpa tradition and their lineages of spiritual transmission. It is this, along with the unprecedented attempt to forcibly ban this practice, that Dorje Shugden practitioners find so unacceptable. They are not saying that non-Dorje Shugden practitioners are not entitled to their own religious practices and traditions, only that they are entitled to theirs.

Is the ‘Dorje Shugden problem’ a political issue?

You say: Concern for the ‘Tibetan people’ is a ‘political’ cause but concern for Dorje Shugden practitioners is not?

Tibet is a country that has a Government in Exile (TGIE) and the issues of Tibet are the issues of the government and political by nature. The practice of Dorje Shugden is an essential part of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition and it is a spiritual practice. Campaigning for religious freedom is very important because it affects the spiritual lives of Buddhists. The WSS believes that by practising Buddha’s teachings people can attain permanent liberation from suffering. If these teachings are lost or corrupted, there will be no possiblity of finding permanent release from suffering; so maintaining these teachings is a religious and not a political issue.

It may be uncomfortable to hear but, according to Buddha’s teachings, politics, such as campaigning for a free Tibet, will never lead to permanent liberation from suffering, whereas restoring and protecting a pure spiritual practice that can get people out of samsara will.

You say: If this is about religious freedom and not a political issue, why can’t the NKT itself protest against the Dalai Lama? If it is a political issue then why are members of the NKT engaging in Tibetan politics when the NKT pertains to be non-political?

I can understand your confusion. This problem comes from not distinguishing between the religious and the political dual role of the Dalai Lama. I believe even the Dalai Lama has this problem.

The pure practice of Dorje Shugden has never been ‘Tibetan politics’. The Dalai Lama has made Dorje Shugden into a political scapegoat, blaming his failure to get Tibetan independence on the worship of this Deity. All the WSS is trying to do is to protect the lineage of Je Tsongkhapa. Why is this political? Who is engaging in politics here?

The NKT itself does not protest against the Dalai Lama because many more people than those in the NKT are affected by the Dalai Lama’s ban. As mentioned above, there are many Gelugpas in this world. The WSS is an ad-hoc association of Dorje Shugden practitioners. It is not only the NKT that disagrees with what the Dalai Lama has done.

You say: If Tibetan problems are nothing to do with the WSS then why are you protesting against the Tibetan political leader about his management of Tibetan monasteries? There is no ban on practising Dorje Shugden for NKT practitioners. Do you wish to have the approval of the Dalai Lama?

If the Dalai Lama is a political leader, why is he involved in the management of Tibetan monasteries? This would be like President Bush making decisions about what US Dharma Centres do.

The Dalai Lama wants to have his cake and to eat it – he wants to be a politician and he wants to be a spiritual leader at the same time. These roles are incompatible. With all due respect, confusion over what he is seems evident from your questions and responses, and I think this confusion stems from his ambiguous dual role – is he the political or the religious leader? What does he want from the world and its people? Even the media is often unsure how to refer to him and world politicians are ambivalent about whether or not to meet with him. His theocratic role is unique in this modern world and, for those who disagree with him, there is no recourse because of it.

Practitioners of Dorje Shugden will probably never get the Dalai Lama’s approval, which of course makes many of them very sad, as you can see from their stories on this video. But what they need is the freedom to practice, the freedom not to be ostracised from their communities, and the freedom not to be demonized as non-Buddhists engaging in ‘cult-like’ practices worshipping an evil spirit. Since the Dalai Lama is the source of this slander, the Western Shugden Society need him to retract his statements and give religious freedom; nothing more.

I’ll post the final part of the replies tomorrow. Once again, thank you Carol for the opportunity to answer your questions. Hopefully these answers will be helpful for others also who are wrestling with doubts, at least enough for them to respect this position even if they do not agree with it.

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4 Responses to Another Reply to the Bodhisattva Centre Protestors, Part Two

  1. Chelvi says:

    Wow! I am astounded by the clarity of your wisdom. An excellent response and I am sure that many others like me will also benefit from reading this!

  2. Tony says:

    What a great and articulate reply. I must say I feel for many people who have had their share of trouble in the NKT. But I do believe this is due to many factors, unskilful behaviour of teachers, students and even the person who now is complaining. I am glad that the NKT is addressing the issues and trying to make things right. This shows that the practice of Dorje Shugden helps people to keep responding with kindness to the lies and angry attacks of the Dalai Lama and his supporters.

  3. Sue says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of this information This is one of the clearest responses I’ve read. It is considerate of the confusion, respectful of the parties involved, and consistent with the approach of Buddhist logic and debate. Thanks and please keep contributing in this way.

  4. The Fool says:

    How can this be a clear and logical response when you make statements like this…

    “The NKT itself does not protest against the Dalai Lama because many more people than those in the NKT are affected by the Dalai Lama’s ban”.

    Please back this up with verifiable facts. Its a simple equation – How many members of the NKT (who practice Shugden freely) next to how many Shugden practitioners in non NKT centres who are not allowed to practice Shugden. Please list the centres quoted.

    Also you say “The Dalai Lama wants to have his cake and to eat it – he wants to be a politician and he wants to be a spiritual leader”.

    Come on he was identified as a boy and given the role of the Dalai Lama. Emotive words like ‘he wants’ are just complete distortions. Imagine if it was you who was chosen to represent a nation both politically and spiritually at the age of 3.

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